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In recent years, lyocell fabric has experienced a surge in popularity as a material for clothing and, of course, bedding. It's gained quite the reputation for being an effective, natural, eco-friendly alternative to common fabrics like cotton. But what is it about lyocell - also commonly known as Tencel - that's causing such a stir? In this article, we’ll go over where lyocell comes from, how it's produced, and why many consider it the fabric of the future.
Wood Pulp: From Humble Beginnings
In simple terms, lyocell is made from trees. Eucalyptus trees are the most common source, though oak and bamboo are also used. Understandably, the process of turning a humble tree into workable fabric is pretty intense. Here's a brief rundown:
- Wood from the eucalyptus is harvested and cut into thousands of tiny pieces. These pieces are then ground into a fine pulp.
- The pulp is immersed in an organic chemical called NMO. Once dissolved, all that's left is pure wood cellulose - a very thick, sticky liquid.
- The cellulose is filtered and pumped through a tool called a "spinneret". The spinneret is pierced with tiny holes like a showerhead which squeeze the cellulose into long fibres.
- These lyocell fibres are washed and dried to remove any excess cellulose and neutralize lingering chemicals.
- Finally, the lyocell is spun into yarn and eventually woven into fabric.
Benefits Of Lyocell Fabric
The first thing most people notice about lyocell is its remarkable softness. But that's not all - sure, it's soft to the touch, but it's exceptionally breathable and absorbent too.
Like cotton, these traits mean lyocell has moisture-wicking properties, soaking up the sweat from skin and transporting it to the surface of the fabric where it evaporates. That's why lyocell has become such a popular material for athleisure clothes and bedsheets - by taking care of sweat and allowing heat to escape, lyocell can keep you cool and comfortable for hours at a time.
Unlike cotton, however, lyocell is also naturally resistant to wrinkles. It's 50% more absorbent than cotton so it's even better at cooling you down. And if that wasn't enough, lyocell fibre is hypoallergenic, making it a friendlier option for those with sensitive skin or an allergy to common fabrics such as polyester. Breathable, moisture-reducing and good for the environment - what's not to love?
Why Is Lyocell Production Sustainable?
The invention of lyocell, made in 1972, was directly motivated by climate change concerns as researchers wanted to find a more sustainable method of producing rayon. Thankfully, lyocell production has been a success in that regard - the process used to produce lyocell is much more sustainable and environmentally friendly than materials like silk, cotton, and its close cousin, viscose rayon.
Eucalyptus trees are a large part of the reason why lyocell is so sustainable. They grow quickly, barely require irrigation or pest control, and have almost no competition for farmland. Compared to cotton, lyocell needs as little as half the amount of water throughout production.
The other major environmental advantage of lyocell is the unique spinning process. The solvent used to make cellulose is non-toxic and up to 99.5% can be recycled for multiple uses. With a non-toxic solvent, spinning runs fewer risks of incorporating harmful chemicals into the finished fabric, and the closed-loop system produces far less waste. Other varieties of rayon, like viscose, can only be produced using harmful chemicals, making the advantages of lyocell really stand out.
Are There Any Drawbacks?
Everything sounds pretty good so far, but are there any drawbacks to lyocell? Well, lyocell is so soft for a reason - compared to cotton and other materials, it's noticeably less durable and more sensitive to harsh detergents. It takes a bit more effort to wash and dry a lyocell garment or sheet, but with proper care, they'll last as long as any other quality fabric.
The main disadvantages of lyocell fabric are availability and cost. Lyocell production is expensive and the premium quality of the fabric makes average prices significantly higher than cotton. Higher prices, newfound demand, and the recency of the material in the market can make lyocell fabric hard to come by.
However, looking to the future, lyocell's growing popularity and natural advantages make it hard to see these problems lasting. As the production of lyocell takes off, you can expect to see more lyocell textiles making their way to the shelves. Already, it's become popular to produce clothes with lyocell blended into other fabrics including polyester, cotton, rayon, and even silk. The future of the textile industry is really heating up!
Lyocell Fabric Care Tips
If you've managed to get your hands on a set of soft, lyocell sheets, it's important to know how to take good care of them & make them last. Here are some tips:
- The best way to wash any lyocell textile is by hand. We recommend hand washing with cold water to preserve energy for the environment. Unlike cotton or other fabric, lyocell is delicate and a smooth lather with gentle detergent is the best way to avoid damage to your sheet.
- If you really need to machine wash lyocell sheets, set your washing machine to the lowest setting and wash cold. Never put lyocell in the dryer, rather hang it out to dry.
- As a rule of thumb, it's best not to iron lyocell if you can help it. Anything above a warm setting risks damaging your sheets. If necessary, run a warm iron over the sheets, just enough to straighten any wrinkles.